Genealogy: 150 questions to ask family members about their lives

Return To Article
Add a comment
  • Family Historian US, NJ
    Feb. 25, 2014 6:27 a.m.

    I find it insulting that you are presenting this list of questions as your own, when you took them from a genealogy group on Facebook. The fact that you do not site your sources or even give credit to the person who actually created this list of questions is deplorable. Clearly you have no ethics. Perhaps you should give credit where credit is due instead of presenting things as your own.

  • CA Granny PETALUMA, CA
    Feb. 14, 2014 11:31 p.m.

    My daughter once tried to tape record interviews with her paternal grandparents but Grandma didn't want to be recorded. So, she went into the next room to talk to Grandpa; when he answered the questions, he deliberately made mistakes, which prompted Grandma to shout out from the kitchen what the real answer was. So Judy got responses from both grandparents. Talking to our elderly parents brings priceless memories, and while the suggested list is long, it does provide suggestions that can be asked as the interviewer thinks appropriate.

  • David Mefford American Fork, UT
    Feb. 12, 2014 11:08 a.m.

    We were also the primary care-givers for my wife's mother the last 10 years of her life. As we took her to lunch or for rides, the conversation would often turn to her early life. I would jot down her comments as she talked.

    We once drove her and her sisters down to the farm they grew up and they would rattle on and on about so and so that lived here, and the fun they had over there, and the pranks their brothers pulled.

    It was priceless, easy and didn't have to be a formal interview, we just wrote down what she told us when she told us. Cell phones with video, audio recorders, and note-taking apps made it very easy to record their histories.

  • David Mefford American Fork, UT
    Feb. 12, 2014 11:02 a.m.

    My parents recorded my great-grandfather a few years before he died. He was apprehensive, but after about 10 minutes, he forgot all about the recorder. I was only a teenager, but I still remember how it touched me to hear him reminisce about his life. My parents were wise enough to let him ramble along as he answered the questions.

    He volunteered a lot of information and stories that we didn't even know to ask. He spoke about his gambling habit, how he had won and lost 3 fortunes at the poker table, how grandma put the farm in her name so he couldn't lose it too, how he had been the blacksmith on the crew that built the highway over the Teton mountains from Idaho to Jackson Hole, the broken relationship he had with his father, all valuable information to help us understand his life and our heritage.

    Interview them now, and do it more than once. It is a priceless experience you will treasure for ever, much more than even the "family history data" you glean.

  • ca2000 West Wendover, NV
    Feb. 12, 2014 8:35 a.m.

    Thank you, GeoMan. I like your take on this, and I agree 100%. I've waited too long, and I am not sure now that the information I am getting is accurate or not from my mom and dad. It makes me sad.

  • GeoMan SALEM, OR
    Feb. 12, 2014 8:15 a.m.

    Central Texan,

    You seem to have missed the point. A person can always ignore a question they aren't comfortable with, or interested in. What we ask a family member should be shaped by our relationship with that person. The point of those questions that you have called-out as intrusive or inane is to trigger the telling of a story. Yes, a simple answer of "mom had her appendix out at County General Hospital" may be inane. However, that question could trigger a very insightful story that included information about many family members and important events in their lives.

    Many people argue that life histories of anyone but the rich, powerful, or famous are inane and pointless. That is an opinion that they are entitled to have and share. For some of the rest of us, families are eternal and knowing something about family members helps strengthen those eternal bonds.

  • beawsomeb Marsing, ID
    Feb. 11, 2014 9:05 a.m.

    I video recorded my interviews with all the grandparents. Be sure and take breaks between interviewing. Also ask the most important questions first. I would pick the 25 most important ones and focus on those. Also open ended questions like tell me about your birth. What memories do you have of your grandparents? Ask about each grandparent individually looks smells etc. Tell me about that child or parent. this leaves it open to them discussing what is important. What was the naughtiest thing you ever did? Have them bear their testimony. Ask them about a life philosophy they live by. What would they tell their posterity? What would they change if they could? What are the best moments in life? How did their parents teach them religion and morals? What was your relationship with so and so? Did you have any childhood illnesses or major medical problems you remember about the family? This type of questioning takes away the uncomfortable questions but gets the important information out. It also helps if you want to blend the movies into questions you have asked each grandparent when making movies for your children.

  • Central Texan Buda, TX
    Feb. 10, 2014 9:27 a.m.

    I think this list is way too long and asks some questions that are too personal, prying, or elicit inane or useless information.

    For example - don't ask them if they made enough money to "live comfortably" or if their parents could put food on the table.

    Don't ask them to ruminate about the choices they made in a spouse.

    Don't ask them about their bad habits, parenting mistakes, whether they were "strict or lenient" and which children they "spoiled"

    Don't ask them what they "do regularly for exercise."

    Don't ask if someone ever saved their life.

    Don't ask about their hospitalizations and surgeries.

    Don't ask where their parents were hospitalized.

    Don't go through a long list trying to get them to tell you their favorite season of the year, favorite vegetable, favorite cookie, favorite tree, etc.

    Don't have them try to categorize their spouse[s] or relatives as the most this or that: Who is the best housekeeper, who is the best looking, who is the biggest tease, who is the most reclusive, etc.

  • Gildas LOGAN, UT
    Feb. 8, 2014 9:51 a.m.

    It's a very good idea to ask questions now. Acting on similar advice many years ago I interviewed my mother with a cassette tape recorder running. The next time I saw my mother she was suffering from dementia and could not recognize even close family members so the recording proved very timely.

    I still have and prize that tape plus several copies of the transcription I made from it. I sent copies to my siblings of those parts in which she talked about them specifically. The transcription was used at her funeral to express some of her feelings and experiences in her own words.

  • timpClimber Provo, UT
    Feb. 8, 2014 7:41 a.m.

    Good list but I would add; Do you have any photos, movies, videos or audio recordings of older family members? If yes, may I copy them and ask questions about the people in them. Also ask about family keepsakes especially Bibles. I've found some unique and important information both recorded and stuffed into them. Also show them family photos that have unidentified people in them they just might recognize them. I learned about my great grandfather's missionary companion that way and this companion's journal of their mission together in New Zealand.